Fruit flies swoop into school science lessons

Posted by er134 at Aug 01, 2013 10:10 AM |
University of Leicester scientists develop innovative educational programme for GCSE and A-Level pupils using live fruit flies

Issued by University of Leicester Press Office on 1 August 2013

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School pupils can witness the principles of mutation and genetic variation at work in live fruit flies, thanks to a new initiative from Leicester scientists.

LiveGene! is a new programme developed at the University of Leicester’s Department of Genetics, which brings genetics teaching to life by using live fruit flies in the classroom.

Research fellows and PhD students from the Department’s Tauber Research Lab have developed a programme of activities using the insects to demonstrate elements of GCSE and A-Level biology curricula.

The scientists hope this will be an exciting and valuable way for pupils to see the principles of genetics outside the textbook, and learn about the importance of model organisms in science research.

The programme uses a species of fruit fly called Drosophila melanogaster or “vinegar fly” - which has played a central role in our understanding of genetics since it was first used in research 101 years ago.

Pupils are able to see examples of genetic variation and mutation at work – such as the mutation which causes fruit flies to have white eyes rather than the normal red colour.

They can then observe how this mutation is passed on to future generations of flies – including the proportion of offspring who exhibit the mutation, and whether this is higher if it is the male or female parent who has white eyes.

This allows them to tell whether the gene is “dominant” or “recessive”, and learn about the principles of inheritance and gene mapping.

The team provides schools with free training and teaching materials as well as several hundred of the flies themselves.

They have already worked with 17 teachers from six schools in Leicestershire and Northampton since launching the programme two months ago, and have received very positive feedback from the schools.

The training sessions have been recently approved by the Society of Biology as a Continuous Personal Development event (CPD), and the team hopes to attract teachers and school support staff from all over the country.

The programme was set up by PhD students Nathaniel Davies and Laura Flavell, both members of the Tauber Research Lab in the Department of Genetics.

Nathaniel Davies said: “We initially met with teachers to get an idea of how useful a university programme to bring Drosophila into the classroom would be, and we had a really enthusiastic response.

“We talked with them about their needs and how we would structure such a program, and built it using their suggestions and feedback. This approach seems to have worked well, as the feedback that we're getting from the teachers using our programme now is fantastic.

“The teachers that we've had in our training sessions so far find them fun, engaging, and informative. They learn about caring for flies and have time to discuss interesting Drosophila experiments that they can perform with the students in their classrooms.

“Performing experiments with Drosophila leaves students with a lasting impression, and may even help to inspire the next generation of biologists.”

Laura Flavell said: “Many vital discoveries into human biology have their roots in Drosophila, especially in the field of genetics, but this idea is frequently lost.

“Giving a concept a solid example helps cement these ideas and make biology more than just words in a text book - I know that I wish I'd had the opportunity. Many schools have shown interest in moving LiveGene! forward and it is hopefully going to become a staple in the classroom.”

Dr Eran Tauber, leader of the Tauber Research Lab, said: “Having live flies in the classroom is fun and exciting, and has a huge potential to make science classes in secondary education a beautiful and memorable experience.

“Research into the fruit fly contributed most of what we know today about modern genetics. Humans share large numbers of their genes with fruit flies - many of which are involved in human genetic diseases.

“The fruit fly provides a fast, efficient and low-cost environment for studying the role of candidate genes in various processes or diseases. This approach accelerates scientific discovery and obviously reduces the usage of larger animals – such as rodents - in research.

“It’s our duty as scientists to explain and promote the concept of model organisms and their enormous contribution to the advance of science and medicine.”

Julie Tansey, a teacher at Robert Smyth Academy, Market Harborough, Leicestershire, attended one of the team’s training sessions.

She is hoping to start using the flies with classes after the summer.

She said: “I enjoyed the LiveGene! training session. The enthusiasm and love for flies of the team was infectious and it’s so nice to get hands-on experience.”

The project was set up with help from the Leicestershire Education Business Company (LEBC) and GENIE, the UK's Centre for Excellence in Teaching and Learning in Genetics based at the University of Leicester.

Dr Tauber, Nathaniel and Laura are STEM Ambassadors - a national government-funded scheme administered by STEMNET, which allows people working in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) subjects to help inspire young people to pursue these areas.

Judith Payne, STEM Manager, Leicestershire Education Business Company, said: “As well as giving students the opportunity to do practical genetics experiments, the LiveGene project also gives teachers and students the opportunity to learn about how drosophilae are used in cutting edge genetics research and an insight into the work of practising scientists.”

More information about LiveGene! Can be found at:



For more information, please contact:

Dr Eran Tauber at:

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